Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Twittering to Another Extreme

Growing up in the Eastern world, I was told that westerners are reserved by nature and cherish their privacy. When making small talk, I was told, it is best to stick to general subjects - such as weather and sports. On matters of faith, politics and personal life, they tend to shy off from talking to strangers. There is a fair bit of truth in this. The emphasis on individual living, decision-making and making the individual a priority is distinctly a Western trait. And in the 21st century, "Western" is not a geographical reference, it includes numerous places in the east that have adopted these norms. The emphasis on personal, individual and private to me has been a bit extreme.

In contrast, eastern societies have been more community-based. Your business was often everybody's business. Home was always abode to multiple generations, so people got married and continued to live under the same roof as their parents and other siblings. Over time people slowly moved to their own space (which is why you never find the entire village living under the same roof). I find this a more moderate approach.

The thing about moderation is, it is like an engineering system that has stabilized. Extremism is akin to an oscillating system which goes from one end of the spectrum to the other. What's true for engineering systems seems to be true for social systems too.

It is true that many eastern societies seem to be rapidly adopting western ways along with western gadgets, tools and technology and that is subject for another discussion. For now, I am marveling at the fact that in a mere twenty years I have seen my otherwise reserved and private neighbors swing to the other extreme in a phenomenon called Twittering.

Its tag line says "What are you doing?" Is that something we need to broadcast? Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a Luddite and I do see some very good applications of the technology. What I am marveling at is the swing from one extreme of being so private as to being stuffy to being so non-private that trivia is being shared with EVERYONE. QED.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

TEHNC Series: Glorifying Lechery

This is my second post in The Emperor Has No Clothes series and, coincidentally, it happens to be about no clothes.

I will never understand why dressing up for women in the West equates with LESS CLOTHES AND MORE SKIN. Actually, how do I say this, I do understand, but that is just too obviously putrid and objectifying of the fairer sex, no? It's true in sports (compare google search for images for male gymnast and female gymnast and I am not even bringing up beach volleyball), in formalwear where for men it's suits or tuxedos and for women it starts to get pretty skimpy pretty quickly. Does everybody see the obvious and ubiquitous putrid standards at work yet no one's saying anything about it?

Why does society elevate that whose sole purpose is to invite leching? I suspect everybody sees the double standards yet the lower common denominator dominates. And the emperor continues to walk naked while we all pretend everything is allright.

Dear Sami Yusuf

I just bought and played Sami Yusuf's latest CD Without You. So here's a word or two for the brother...
  1. God has blessed you with a lovely voice. Amazing! And you're putting it to good use. Masha'Allah!
  2. As someone who loves the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) with all his heart, I can sense that you do the same and just that creates a special bond between two Muslims. So you know what I mean when I say "I hear you." I do :)
  3. Now some bad news and sincere advice: Fire your song-writers and get someone who can write songs. In this and your previous CDs I'd give you lyricists an F grade. You can't take cliche-loaded speeches and pretend like they were songs. Your voice is good, but NOT so good that badly written prose may bring out the effect of a song. It tortures the listener, spare us, bro!
  4. What's with plagiarizing singing styles and tunes? I swear, I thought I was listening to bad imitations of many popular artists. Stick to your style, brother. If I miss Jennifer Lopez, I will get her CD.

As much as I love you for the devotion which you fill your songs with, I cringed through most of the CD.

Here's the bottom-line: This is the last CD of yours that I purchased to support a Muslim artist. On your next CD, you'll have to earn my business.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Good Friday, Bad Friday

I perform my Jumu'ah prayers at a synagogue (I know, that's a construct you don't normally expect to read). In the land of Evangelical Christians and diehard Zionism are also Christians and Jews who have embraced Muslims with arms and hearts wide open. As the Qur'an says, the People of the Book are diverse, some more fair than others.

I find the synagogue more peaceful than the local mosque. You are probably disappointed, but it's true. To begin with, it's cleaner. There's a certain din in the local masjid and most masajid (not all!) that does not pervade the synagogue and that instantly improves my Jumu'ah experience.

But the thing that makes the most impact on my Jumu'ah experience is the khateeb of the day. Talk about diversity! They come in all persuasions - from calm and soothing to fire and brimstrones. Some are difficult to put up with for 35 minutes. They must be connecting with some other members of the congregation but, sadly, I am deprived of any spiritual or moral inspiration by their words. Then, there's Joshua. God bless him. He does his homework. He is articulate but he isn't in love with this own speech. He comes and makes a point or two, with clarity of ideas and humility in his tone. May God bless him and all khateebs who bring God's servants closer to piety through inspiration. May God bless all places of worship where His name is uttered and praised in abundance and those who maintain them.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Losing Our Way

Tagore, in one of the most beautiful prayers penned by any human, wrote:
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Alas, all good things run their course and all streams seem to lose their way into "the dreary desert sand of dead habit."

The level of fraud and deception in businesses across the world has reached that critical proportion that I think we ought to pause for a moment and mark the ending of something good that began with the rise of the Bourgeois class in Europe some centuries back. Wealth was earned, in the good old fashion - an essential confluence of hard work, ingenuity and luck.

That culture (if it ever existed) seems to have vanished. The class that seeks to make money today does not seem inclined towards the pursuit of tireless perfection. Dark souls that do not seem inspired by anything good, merely obsessed to fill their belly with more, by hook or crook, and under incredible pressure of unrealistic expectations of all around them. Madoff and Stanford may be evil criminals. But is there no culpability on part of the society that expects those kinds of returns that they provided? I believe these two and others like them are merely expression of a collective loss of our moral compass. After giving birth to a lot of good things, the Industrial Revolution is now finding itself in the dreary desert sand of habit, quite lost, I am afraid. And it is producing toxic stuff.

Legitimate profits have yielded to Ponzi schemes. More than a century of medical miracles and this civilization is now floundering in the direction of creating superbugs that threaten all humanity. Ingenuity is replaced by greed. Valor and honor seem to have been overcome by treachery and deceit.

I believe no matter how inspired any human enterprise, when devoid of God, it will lose its way. It's actually worse than that, even Godly enterprises, when they do not heed to Godly teachings in their proper context, lose their way. How inspired was Tagore to seek refuge with God from this high susceptibility we have to losing our way!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Paging Parents of Young Abdul Malik...

I spent 3 hours in transit on Terminal 3 of London's Heathrow airport on Sunday. In that brief period, there were two cases of children getting separated from their parents. In each case a public service announcement sought to reconnect the child with parents. The first was a baby girl, I do not remember the exact name, but it was a Muslim name. An hour later and I was amazed: "Will the parents of young Abdul Malik, about 6 years old and separated from his parents, please come the the central security area?" Another Muslim family had managed to lose their child!

Two out of two in three hours, both Muslim...what does this say about us? Wonder who we blame for this sort of attitude? Israel? America? Or some other "legion of kuffar and mushrikeen"?

Putting Limbaugh in His Place

Deepak Chopra, writing on Huffington Post, set the record straight on Rush Limbaugh:

By any sane account, Rush Limbaugh is dead weight when it comes to finding a solution to anything. Like Sarah Palin, his spiritual bride, he lurks in the shadow of the human psyche, expressing the dark anger, resentment, jealousy, and vindictiveness that society can never escape. And yet, the next time you tune into Limbaugh's censorious circus of insensitive scurrility, give him a kind thought. As far back as Mark Twain, the American character has been ornery. We secretly love rascals, bank robbers, tricksters, swindlers, hell raisers, and outlaws. And when we feel so inclined, we laugh at them. Rush Limbaugh may represent a toxic form of entertainment -- and the bile he spews bears no resemblance to true morality -- but the fact that America makes room for him is something to be proud of. I don't pray that he goes away. I pray that we can keep laughing, even if our grin is crooked, at the pranks of the eternal shadow who is our companion for life, whether we want him or not.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rape in Afghanistan?

This in today's news:
"'Rapes in the country have been growing tremendously, particularly child rapes within the ages of 9, 8, 7, even lesser than that' said Wazhma Frogh, director of Global Rights Afghanistan."

Any truth to this? I mean wouldn't ANY rape, much less rape of minors, be a highly dishonorable thing to do in Afghanistan, a highly repugnant action that would draw the ire of the masses given Islam's strong position against rape and any kind of sexual aggression? Then again, Islam is also strongly against drugs (consumption, supply or any involvement in any part of the entire supply chain) and narcotics are among the largest sectors of this sad country's economy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thinking Big, Very Big, in Mumbai

I aspire never to be a pessimist. Yet, some dreams seem very big. I won't say too big, for that'd be pessimism.

On many occasions in recent years, I have walked the streets of Mumbai (where the highly acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire was filmed) in shock at how poor the city's infrastructure is and how it appears to be going nowhere anytime soon. Home to 14 million people, 45% of India's GDP comes out of this one city (I know, shocking!), nearly 70% of capital transactions of India are through Mumbai. Yet, visibly and infrastructur-ally, Mumbai is one large slum with stench to go with it.

Every day affluent people, people who have shaped the world through their contribution to business and the art world, jump over heaps of trash to get into their chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz to navigate what are called roads but aren't really. They meet and socialize for hours in their posh apartments and villas with their windows closed lest the stench from the outside ruin their appetite. They spend millions in the weddings of their children competing in who could draw more guests, then go on with their lives breathing air that makes rounds of some shockingly polluted industrial zones.

The only thing more shocking than Mumbai's lack of infrastructure is the apathy of its residents and leaders over how bad things are. In fact, I feel there is a sense of joy its residents seem to find in all the squalor. Things are so bad and getting worse, there ought to be a citizens' revolt. Not here...it's "chalta hai". Some may argue it's a poor nation's poverty I am making fun of. On the contrary, I think there is money and the money is spent. I fear it ends up in secret bank accounts of people who face no accountability, coz it's all chalta hai. Millions of "honorable" people, a land of countless saints (going by temples, masjids, dargahs), and yet, they all stink...and I mean quite literally.

So, from Mumbai comes the following news: a grand dream to transform the city! God bless those who have dared to dream. I will pray for their success, but my breath, I shall hold not (although around Mumbai it's an exercise one could often use)!

Islam and Patriarchy

Here's what I'd call a 5-star article on Domestic Violence among Muslims (and on the broader topic of Islam and Patriarchy) by Pamela Taylor. God bless Pamela! As long as we have people who can think clearly with humility and courage, we have hope.